At the behest of Manatee County public safety officials, county commissioners unanimously declared a local state of emergency because of subtropical storm Alberto on Friday afternoon.
Declaring an emergency allows county officials to "perform any emergency action," said Manatee County public safety director Bob Smith, like opening shelters, sending out evacuation notices, paying county staff overtime and coordinating special purchases, if needed. Hurricane season officially starts June 1.
"You can see that overnight the storm ... took a shift to the west, which is good news for us," Smith said, pointing to a National Hurricane Center outlook from Friday morning. "But as we've learned with Irma, you can't really count on those tracks this early in the game."
Tropical storm watches are in effect for the Yucatan peninsula and western coast of Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Center. The current track of Alberto predicts it will only rise to the level of a tropical storm and make landfall on the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama by Monday.
It's possible that Manatee County could feel tropical storm force winds around 8 p.m. Saturday if the storm doesn't shift again, Smith noted.
"At this point we are primarily concerned with the amount of rain we have received in the past two weeks," Smith said.
The National Weather Service predicts anywhere between four and seven inches of rain for Manatee County through Tuesday, but Smith said some parts of the county could receive up to 12 inches of rain. Other parts could get less.
Unlike storm surge, which describes water's potential of being pushed on shore, areas that flood from rain "are much more difficult to predict," Smith said. The worst of the rain is expected to hit Saturday into Sunday.
"There's nowhere for us to go to evacuate out of the way," Manatee County Emergency Management Chief Sherilyn Burris told the Bradenton Herald earlier Friday.
County officials said they do not expect to activate the Emergency Operations Center, open shelters or require evacuations.
Sandbag distribution began Thursday and will run Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Manatee County Transit and Fleet Facility, 2411 Tallevast Road. County residents should bring an ID. The city of Bradenton will also have sandbags available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at 705 13th Ave. W. for city residents with proof of residency.
Although county commissioners approved a funding request last month to buy five machines that would facilitate the sandbagging process, county spokesman Nick Azzara said they have yet to arrive.
Jacques Pierre was grabbing sandbags for the first time Friday morning to protect his business on Ninth Street West.
"Just they're talking about bad weather, something like that," he explained. "I just need some bags to put by my business doors."
He picked up six white polypropylene sandbags, part of around 500 that Manatee County public works employees had handed out since Thursday morning.
"Honestly, we're waiting to hear what the weather report is," said Jason Hegerich, a public works employee.
"From last year, you would expect to have a lot of people coming," public works employee Zach Custer added. "Usually people come when it's a definite threat. They wait until the last second."
Burris advised residents to "err on the side of caution" if they're unsure if they need sandbags, but that they would know their neighborhoods best.
Anna Maria Island resorts have seen better days
The storm has likely quashed any plans for a sunshine-filled Memorial Day weekend. According to NWS, a flood watch is in effect from Saturday afternoon through Monday evening for several counties, including Manatee and Sarasota. Winds in the eastern Gulf of Mexico will be sustained between 25 and 30 knots from Saturday afternoon through late Sunday, with gusts reaching gale force.
"This will create hazardous boating conditions for small craft operators," the NWS weather outlook read.
Island resorts felt the effects of the bad weather well before it hit.
"A lot of people made plans a week out," said Richard Bond, manager of Anna Maria Island Beach Resort.
Not many booked, knowing the weather wouldn't be beach-friendly, he said. Now their bookings are down 50 percent.
"When it's nice and sunny, it's sold out," he said.
Bookings at Tortuga Inn, Tradewinds, Seaside Inn and Tropic Isle beach resorts are also down, said general manager Barbara Baker.
They had a lot of calls asking about the weather and cancellations, she said, but Baker said they don't cancel "just for weather," as there are no watches or warnings. There haven't been many cancellations "because everyone's saying, 'We're OK.'"
"There's still a beautiful beach and lots of things to do in rainy weather," she added.